House debates

Tuesday, 31 August 2021


National Health Amendment (COVID-19) Bill 2021; Second Reading

12:45 pm

Photo of Terri ButlerTerri Butler (Griffith, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for the Environment and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

) ( ): I move:

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House urges the Government to learn the lessons from its lack of urgency in supplying sufficient and timely vaccines to the Australian people and improve its vaccine delivery programs, including First Nations Australians".

Mr Speaker, I yield the remainder of my time to the member for Hindmarsh.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

Photo of Stephen JonesStephen Jones (Whitlam, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

12:46 pm

Photo of Mark ButlerMark Butler (Hindmarsh, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Manager of Opposition Business in the House of Representatives) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] Thank you very much to the member for Griffith for moving that amendment on my behalf and to the member for Whitlam seconding it. This is an important bill that deals with some substantial administrative complications in Australia's vaccine rollout strategy, in particular because of the way in which appropriations work for departments, including the Department of Health.

As the government is making arrangements with vaccine and other medicine and pharmaceutical companies to implement our vaccine rollout strategy, the government are effectively having to make payments out of their existing appropriations, then reallocate internal finances until they're able to recoup the additional money through an appropriation which might be several months down the track. This is obviously not an efficient or effective way for a government to be able to implement a vaccine rollout strategy during a global pandemic. So this bill confers a spending power, effectively, on the minister for health to enter into arrangements and to make payments that relate particularly to securing COVID vaccines; in time, we hope, securing COVID vaccine booster shots; goods and services that relate to those things, including consumables; and also, in time, COVID-19 treatments or therapies—

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

We just lost the audio.

Photo of Mark ButlerMark Butler (Hindmarsh, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Manager of Opposition Business in the House of Representatives) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Speaker, I've turned off my video. Can I be heard now?

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, we can hear you.

Photo of Mark ButlerMark Butler (Hindmarsh, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Manager of Opposition Business in the House of Representatives) Share this | | Hansard source

And not see me—that seems like a very good outcome for everyone, if I can say so myself! I apologise for the IT

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

We will give you the choice: you can persist in that fashion—no-one here objects—or we can go to the next speaker and come back to you, and cede the time.

Photo of Mark ButlerMark Butler (Hindmarsh, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Manager of Opposition Business in the House of Representatives) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm happy to persist, if that is okay with you, Mr Speaker.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, that's fine. We probably missed about the last 90 seconds, so we don't mind if you rewind a bit. We can hear you perfectly. We will try to sort things out in the meantime. You're right—we know perfectly well what you look like!

Photo of Mark ButlerMark Butler (Hindmarsh, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Manager of Opposition Business in the House of Representatives) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I will take that as a positive remark! The bill confers a spending power on the Minister for Health and Aged Care to enter into arrangements and to make payments that relate to the securing of COVID vaccines, but also related goods and services such as boosters, consumables and, in time, COVID-19 treatments. This is a sensible bill that the opposition supports to ensure that the vaccine rollout strategy and associated matters are implemented in the most effective and efficient way possible.

Given that the powers are quite extraordinary and relate particularly to the global pandemic that we're all confronting, the power is appropriately time limited to 30 June next year. We support that arrangement as well. Obviously, if the need arises for that power to be extended, then the government of the day—which we hope by then would be a Labor government, of course—would be able to bring back a proposal to the parliament to extend it. But we hope that we'll have been able to get this sort of thing under control by 30 June next year. In saying that the opposition does support this bill as a sensible administrative and fiscal arrangement, we do want to stress, as the member for Griffith's amendment makes very clear, that coming up with this more effective implementation measure does not absolve the Morrison government from the fundamental, deep failures that have beset their vaccination rollout strategy.

It's important to recognise that the Australian people performed magnificently through the course of 2020, implementing and abiding by measures put in place by state governments to suppress community transition of COVID-19 in Australia. By the end of 2020 community transmission was largely defeated and Australia was seen around the world as one of the most outstanding nations in terms of its response to that first, dangerous phase of the global pandemic. I think it's fair to say that the Australian people went into 2021 feeling that they, and we, were well positioned to deal with the second phase of the pandemic, which was to take advantage of the extraordinary innovation by global scientists in developing not just one, not just two, but a number of COVID-19 vaccines. I think the Australian people were entitled to expect that their federal government, which would take principal responsibility for that second phase, would implement this phase, the vaccination and quarantine arrangements that underpin the second phase, as effectively and magnificently as the Australian people had performed in 2020.

Unfortunately, though, that hasn't been the case. As early as months into last year, Labor, through the shadow health minister at the time, the member for McMahon, were making very clear our view, supported by so many public health experts, that our vaccine rollout strategy should really have five or six vaccine deals secured by the federal government. That was the very clear position of public health, vaccine and epidemiology experts in Australia. Frankly, it's what countries to which we usually compare ourselves managed to do over the course of last year. In particular, going back to last year, the member for McMahon and I, when I took over the shadow health portfolio, had been asking time and time again: 'Why was the government not doing a deal with Johnson & Johnson? Why was the government not doing a deal with Moderna?'

Back in the middle of last year, the Prime Minister assured the Australian people that they would be at the front of the vaccine queue; that they would be among the first in the world to get the benefit of that extraordinary innovation, and the manufacturing that followed it, from scientists and, ultimately, vaccine companies. That simply wasn't the case. We know that, again, that basket of countries to which we usually compare ourselves, like the UK, Canada, the US, European nations and Japan, all secured vaccine supply agreements with Pfizer in June, July or, at the latest, very early August.

It is now the stuff of legend in the pharmaceutical industry that, when Pfizer approached the Australian government—the Morrison government—wanting Australia to be one of the early adopters of their extraordinary innovation, their mRNA vaccine, because they understood that we'd managed the first phase of COVID just so well and they understood the quality of our public health system, the response from the Morrison government was derisory. That is now the stuff of legend. Instead of securing a vaccine supply deal with that company as early as June, July and August, which so many other countries did—all of the countries to which we usually compare ourselves—the Prime Minister did not sign a deal with Pfizer until Christmas Eve, months and months later. He entered into 2021 with no deal—not even a negotiation, apparently—underway with that other state-of-the-art mRNA vaccine company, Moderna.

In January, the government then rolled out its vaccine rollout strategy. It was a strategy that we thought had real merit and that Labor, as the opposition and the alternative government of the country, threw its support behind. Unfortunately, though—and this is where so much of the debate around the current plan really centres—it was not the strategy that was the problem; it was the implementation. What followed the rollout of the strategy was just a litany of failed promises from this Prime Minister. He promised that there would be four million vaccinations by the end of March. There was only a fraction of that number. He promised that the Australian population would be fully vaccinated by October. Clearly, that's a promise that has no prospect of being achieved. The vaccine rollout strategy quite properly prioritised different cohorts in the population that were particularly vulnerable to the impact of COVID, such as aged-care residents, who we had discovered, tragically, through the second wave in Melbourne and to a degree in New South Wales as well, were just so incredibly vulnerable to COVID. We'd seen that right through the rest of the world as well. Aged-care residents, disability care facility residents and their staff, who are the obvious transmission points of COVID between the rest of the community and those facilities, were promised to be fully vaccinated by Easter. It's a Commonwealth responsibility. It was taken on quite properly as a Commonwealth responsibility. But, by Easter, only a fraction of aged-care and disability care residents and scarcely any staff were fully vaccinated.

Phase 1b of the vaccine rollout strategy, again quite properly, promised that other vulnerable cohorts in the population would be fully vaccinated by the onset of winter, understanding, as we do, that a respiratory illness like COVID-19 is particularly dangerous in the winter season. The government promised that Australians over the age of 70 would be fully vaccinated before the onset of winter. They promised that Indigenous Australians would be fully vaccinated before the onset of winter—again, a cohort quite properly identified as a responsibility of the Commonwealth government, not of the states. And, again, as we're seeing quite tragically through the west and far west of New South Wales right now, those promises were nowhere near met. Close to 40 per cent of Australians aged over 70 are still not fully vaccinated, and winter ends today. Forget 'the onset of winter'; winter ends today. Forty per cent or so of over-70s are still not fully vaccinated, and the rates of Indigenous Australian vaccinations are shamefully low. I will come back to that.

Instead of being at the front of the queue, we ended up, through the course of this vaccine rollout strategy, at the bottom of the OECD table. We have the worst, slowest vaccine rollout in the developed world. The Prime Minister changed his tune from saying that Australia should be at the front of the queue and Australians should be able to access vaccines earlier than anyone else on the planet to saying instead that it wasn't a race. He said, a number of times, that the vaccine rollout is not a race, so we shouldn't worry our heads about the fact that we're going more slowly than any other developed country in the world. He now says, of course, that he was talking about the TGA approval process not being a race, rather than the vaccine rollout. This, to be frank, is misleading at best. It is quite clear that weeks and weeks after the TGA approval had been given, both to the Pfizer vaccine and the AstraZeneca vaccine, when the Prime Minister was asked, quite properly, by journalists the reasons for the slowness of the vaccine rollout and the reasons why those earlier promises were failing to be met, the Prime Minister said about the vaccine rollout—not about the TGA approval process—that it was not a race. And Australians are paying the price for that approach.

I think the Prime Minister and the government are drawing attention to the fact that, particularly as a result of the sense of urgency that has been injected into the vaccine rollout by this disastrous third wave, vaccination numbers are definitely improving. That is to be welcomed. No-one welcomes that more than the opposition. But we point out that Australia is still far behind, way behind, all of those countries to which we usually compare ourselves. I do not accept the argument put forward by the Prime Minister time and time again that the reason why we are so far behind the UK, the US, European nations, Canada and many more besides is that Australia's approval process for the vaccines took longer than in the rest of the world. At the time, we were quite clear that we supported the TGA taking a longer process to approve the vaccines than was taken at the time in the US and the UK because of the level of emergency that they were facing through the northern winter period.

But let's be clear: the United Kingdom reached 70 per cent of their eligible population aged over 16 being vaccinated within 34 weeks of the vaccine being approved—70 per cent after 34 weeks. We are now 32 weeks since the TGA approved the Pfizer vaccine and we are only halfway to 70 per cent. It's taken us 32 weeks to get halfway to 70 per cent, while it took the United Kingdom 34 weeks to get the full way. So let's not hear any of this rubbish from the Prime Minister that everything's fixed, that it's all back on track. Australians are still way behind the rest of the world, the developed world in particular, in our vaccine rollout, and that slowness—the consequences of the Prime Minister's belief that this was somehow not a race—is a price being paid by the Australian people.

This third wave has become an unmitigated disaster, a disaster that is getting worse every single day and a disaster for which the Prime Minister is responsible, caused directly by his failures on vaccines and on quarantine. As much as the Prime Minister and other members of the government seek to point the finger of blame at the New South Wales government—in particular, at the New South Wales Premier—typical of a government that never takes responsibility for its own actions and its own failures, the Prime Minister is actually more responsible than any other single person for this third wave.

It must be remembered that this third wave began with a breach in quarantine transport arrangements, a breach in PPE and vaccination arrangements for a limousine driver tasked with the transfer of international aircrew from an international airport to hotel quarantine. And this should not have been of any news to the Prime Minister, because he was warned by Jane Halton, not this year but last year, that this was a gaping hole in our quarantine arrangements. He was warned that it was a gaping hole and that it needed to be urgently addressed. It was his responsibility to address it, but he did nothing. That is how this third wave began. And the third wave took hold, as we all know, because New South Wales was too slow to lock down. Why was it too slow to lock down? Because eight days into the outbreak, knowing the infectious nature of the delta variant because we had been dealing with it for weeks and months, the Prime Minister went on television and cajoled the New South Wales Premier, in his words, to resist going into full lockdown.

In the face of all that, knowing all that we know about the delta variant and its highly infectious nature, Sydney, New South Wales, Victorian and ACT people are now dangerously exposed to the impact of this third wave because we have the slowest vaccine rollout in the developed world. We are seeing people die every day. We are seeing more than 800 people in hospital. About one in 10 adults who get COVID end up in hospital. The hospital system in New South Wales is breaking already under the strain of this third wave, and we know that it will only get worse. People are dying every day, including, shamefully, people in aged care. Because the Prime Minister was unable to meet his promise, was incapable of meeting his promise, to vaccinate all aged-care staff, we see unvaccinated aged-care staff, some working across multiple sites, unknowingly, of course, taking the virus into aged-care facilities. We know that a number of people in New South Wales, residents of aged-care facilities, have died in this third wave. After all we learned, tragically, last year no-one should be dying in an aged-care facility.

One of the most significant sources of shame for the Prime Minister in this third wave, however, should be what's happening in the west and far west of New South Wales. We fear that, potentially, it will spread to other Indigenous communities. As I said earlier in my remarks, it was the Commonwealth's responsibility to ensure that, as part of phase 1B, Indigenous Australians were fully vaccinated before the onset of winter, but we know that Indigenous Australians in New South Wales have some of the lowest rates of vaccination and that towns like Wilcannia are seeing the highest rates of infection.

Shamefully—utterly shamefully—the government has sought to blame Indigenous vaccine hesitancy for these low vaccination rates. As I said, that is typical of a government that never takes responsibility for its own failures and its own actions. We know from case after case which has been drawn to our attention and drawn to the media's attention, that it's an issue of supply. Aboriginal medical services—the ACCHOs—other service providers and vaccine points of presence in Indigenous communities simply aren't getting the vaccines that they need to put into people's arms. Why doesn't the Prime Minister, for once, take responsibility for the unfolding public health disaster that we're seeing in Indigenous communities in New South Wales?

We're seeing real consequences among our teenagers and children, who have become the front line in this disastrous third wave. In different jurisdictions they account for somewhere between a third and as high as 40 per cent of all new cases. Finally, I'm glad to say that, after advice from ATAGI, the government has said that 12- to 15-year-olds are now part of the eligible population, although they won't be counted as part of the national plan to end lockdowns. I say that it's about time. Canada and the US started to vaccinate their 12- to 15-year-olds back in May. Most European nations and Israel started to vaccinate their 12- to 15-year-olds in June. In Canada, fully 60 per cent of 12- to 15-year-olds are already fully vaccinated with two doses of the vaccine; the figure here in Australia is zero. And still the Prime Minister persists in playing word games with Australia's parents and grandparents because he refuses to answer the question, 'When will our 12- to 15-year-olds be vaccinated?' If he continues to refuse to count them as part of the national plan—and that appears to be his intransigent position—then, at the very least, parents deserve an answer to that question, 'When will our 12- to 15-year-olds be vaccinated?'

We understand that this disease is less severe for younger people than for adults, but let's not pretend that this is not a severe disease for teenagers and children. We know it is from our own anecdotal experience, and we know from the research that about one in 30 teenagers who get COVID will end up in hospital. That is a very severe disease.

Finally, I think Australian parents want a sense that the Prime Minister is not going to take the same 'it's not a race' approach to vaccinating the under 12s if that is something approved by the medicines authorities around the world. We know that clinical trials are underway in the United States and that it's likely that Pfizer and Moderna—or, at the very least, Pfizer—will supply data to the FDA in the US over coming weeks. We can expect a high possibility that a paediatric dose of vaccine will be approved by the FDA over the course of the next couple of months and then after that by European authorities, after which it's likely to be submitted to the Australian authorities and to others. But what's the government doing to secure, through an advance purchase agreement, priority doses of Pfizer for the under 12s?

President Biden secured an agreement back in June for enough paediatric doses of Pfizer vaccine—in the event that it is approved by the US authorities—to start putting into the arms of American children as soon as that approval takes place. Are we again going to see the Prime Minister repeat his litany of mistakes by being so slow to act, by continuing to prove that he really does believe this is not a race and that, if those approvals are given by the Australian authorities following authorities overseas, we won't have struck an advance purchase agreement for paediatric doses to protect our younger children?

Right now, 14 million Australians are paying a very high price for the Prime Minister's appalling failures on vaccinations and on quarantine. The impacts of these seemingly never-ending lockdowns in New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT are becoming clearer and clearer every day. It is not just about the economic impacts, which run to billions of dollars every week; it is about the fact that kids aren't going to school and are having a very serious interruption to their learning, which is so important to setting up a good life. Workers aren't able to go to work, which is having a very serious impact on them emotionally as well as financially.

But what is becoming really clear is the devastating mental health impacts these lockdowns are having on all Australians who are subject to them—in particular, young Australians. We are seeing that through all of the feedback that we get from service providers, whether they are in the acute sector at state level or some of the wonderful organisations who do such great work providing youth mental health services. We must see a plan out of these lockdowns implemented safely by the Prime Minister. But is it any wonder that the Australian people harbour such doubts, such little trust, in this Prime Minister to implement that plan safely when he has bungled every single job he has had this year?

1:12 pm

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Picking up on the words of the member for Hindmarsh, there is little doubt that the people of Australia are sick and tired of the absolute rubbish and weaponisation that those members opposite continue to perpetrate upon the Australian people. I've never heard so much rubbish in my life. Talk about talking out of both sides of your mouth! Those opposite say, 'We don't want to delay any of it; we don't want to be talking anything down,' but that's exactly what the Labor Party are doing every time they get on their feet and talk about COVID. They are continuously talking Australia down and continuously impacting on Australians' mental health. It has got to be called out. I will not stand here and listen to this rubbish without calling it out. This is a time where Australia has faced significant threats to the lives of each and every single Australian. And what is the Labor Party doing? They are absolutely weaponising this for their own political gain. Shame on you for weaponising what is a terrible thing, a once-in-100-years pandemic. I won't say I can't believe it, because they are continuing to run to form. I am greatly disappointment that they continue to do so.

There is no doubt that the global COVID-19 pandemic and the actions of governments and populations around the world will be argued by historians for generations to come. Unfortunately in this debate, as we've seen time and again in recent months, members opposite are already trying to do their own rewriting of that history in pursuit of naked political gain. So I'll begin by briefly setting the record straight. Members opposite would have the public believe that the Morrison government has not done everything possible to secure vaccinations for this country.

Opposition Members:

Opposition members interjecting

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The truth, of course, is very different.

An opposition member interjecting

On 18 August 2020—that's the difference between this side and that side. I sat there and listened to the member for Hindmarsh dribble on for half an hour and didn't interrupt. You guys, as soon as you hear something on this side that you differ with, you're up in arms.

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Member for Fisher, just pause for a moment because I'm going to interrupt everybody right now. I'm going to ask for a little bit of quietness—and I'd like you to use a little less unparliamentary language. You're using adjectives that you might think about before uttering.

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On 18 August 2020, just months after this now-familiar disease was first recognised, the health minister signed a letter of intent with AstraZeneca to support the development of an effective vaccine and to get early access to it for Australians. We agreed with AstraZeneca that Australia would be able to manufacture their vaccination on home soil, under licence, to ensure that our protection would not be compromised by failures of international supply.

However, to ensure we had a second option, just three months later the government signed a contract with Pfizer for access to 10 million doses of their new vaccine. By February the government had doubled this to 20 million, and in April, as it became clear that medical advice was changing, the government doubled it again to 40 million. In July the government signed an agreement for another 85 million doses of Pfizer's vaccine and, as the pressure on supply all over the world remained sky high, successfully negotiated with Pfizer for this country to receive more doses sooner. Instead of the 350,000 doses a week we'd received in June, Pfizer agreed to increase supply of its vaccine to Australia to approximately one million doses per week in July and a total of more than 4½ million doses in August. Even then the government wasn't satisfied and just weeks ago secured a further one million doses from Poland, even as our supply continued to ramp up. And, whilst we've been sitting in here, the Prime Minister has announced a further 500,000 doses as a vaccine swap with the government of Singapore. That's not to mention, of course, the government's additional agreements to access the Covax Facility, in September 2020; the Novavax vaccine, in December 2020; and the Moderna jab, in May 2021.

In total, the government has secured 126 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, 53.8 million doses of AstraZeneca, 25 million doses of Moderna, 25 million doses through the Covax Facility and, if approved by the TGA, 51 million doses of Novavax. That's 281 million doses of vaccine for a country of 25 million people, and that doesn't include the additional doses that we've secured for nations in our region. Yet members opposite frequently complain that the government failed to secure enough vaccine doses. It is clear from these figures that, once again, Labor will simply say anything, no matter how out of touch with reality, if they believe it will give them a political advantage. Put simply, the government has secured enough doses, across four different vaccines, for every Australian to receive 10 separate shots.

We are seeing the fruits of those energetic and focused efforts around us right now. I think most Australians know that the vaccine rollout today is progressing as quickly as is humanly possible. But I don't think many appreciate the true extent of its current lightning pace. The first million doses in Australia took 45 days to administer. The second million doses took 20 days. The most recent two lots of a million doses took three and four days, respectively. In the past four weeks we've administered more than 6½ million doses. On a per capita basis, this is a faster pace of vaccination than was ever achieved by the United States or the United Kingdom. The Morrison government has recently invited over 3,900 community pharmacies to join in the vaccine rollout, and mass vaccination centres are opening across many states and territories.

Momentum continues to build. I'm sure that when we began discussing the national plan for our path out of COVID-19 in July the targets of 70 and 80 per cent of the adult population vaccinated must have seemed very far away for many people. Now, just four weeks later, we have more than 57 per cent of the population protected with a first dose, and those targets are looking much closer to becoming reality. The federal government is doing its job. Now it is time for state and territory premiers and first ministers to do theirs. I call upon them to abide by the national cabinet agreement that they signed up to and prepare to open up when our targets are met. We need to stick to the plan.

The hard work and proactivity on vaccines we've seen from the Morrison government is in evidence once again in the bill before the House. While state Labor party governments constantly seek to shift the goalposts in respect to abiding by the national plan, and do everything they can to delay the opening up that Australians are rightly crying out for, the federal government is thinking ahead and today is bringing before the House a bill to facilitate the purchase of even more vaccines in the future. The government recognises, as we all should, that COVID-19 is not going away. No one expects to eliminate this virus forever. Like the flu, it'll be an ongoing part of our daily lives. It is likely that the vaccinations we are all receiving today will not be our last. 280 million vaccine doses are much more than enough to get us where we need to be today, but that doesn't mean we can shirk our responsibilities in planning for the future.

If there are two things that we've learnt during this pandemic, they are that fighting COVID-19 is a rapidly changing and unpredictable process and that it requires a great deal of resources. This is unlikely to change as we move into the next stage. New variants, and the booster vaccines needed to deal with them, are likely to arise quickly and at unpredictable times. When they do, we need to ensure that Australia is at the front of the queue to receive the latest treatments and vaccines. That means making often large and unexpected up-front payments to the pharmaceutical companies and medical product manufacturers which are developing and supplying the tools that we need. Our arrangement with the COVAX Facility, for example, required an immediate up-front payment of $123.2 million. In total, the existing five arrangements the government has entered into for vaccine supply amount to $8 billion.

At the moment, the only avenue available to the government to acquire the funds needed to make these payments is appropriation bills, which can take six months to receive royal assent. This is simply not fast enough or flexible enough to meet our needs during an ongoing global pandemic. As it stands, in the absence of this bill the government would be unable to make any payments for vaccines and treatments beyond January next year. This is clearly an unacceptable limitation on our ability to fight this virus and an unacceptable risk to our ongoing vaccination program. As such, this bill gives the Minister for Health and Aged Care spending power to enter into arrangements and make payments to secure COVID-19 vaccines, new effective treatments for COVID-19 and the equipment and consumables needed to distribute them. The cabinet will retain the ability to make the ultimate decisions about which tools we need, but the bill will ensure that the government can always act on those decisions.

There's no doubt that spending powers beyond the normal appropriations bills process must always be carefully managed to ensure that parliament continues to have oversight of how Australians' hard earned money is spent. The bill ensures the power to appropriate funds continues to lie with the parliament by including a sunset clause which will bring these arrangements to an end on 30 June 2022. This is a temporary measure to deal with the extraordinary circumstances we find ourselves in, but it is a much needed one.

Vaccination is our best defence against COVID-19 and our only way forward out of this global pandemic. For all Australians, whether they want to travel overseas to see family, go back to school or university on campus, visit a great Australian landmark in another state or simply go to the shops without a mask, vaccination is the key. The national cabinet and the Doherty Institute set out the equation very simply in Australia's four-stage national plan: the more people that get vaccinated, the sooner we will get back to normal life. To make that a reality from here we need to overcome two challenges.

We need to reassure all Australians that vaccination is safe and effective. Unfortunately, there have been all too many wild stories and myths flying around about COVID-19 vaccinations in recent months. For any Australian who is concerned and wants the full truth about the safety and effectiveness of taking COVID vaccines, how they are tested and approved and what they mean for your health, I would ask that they please speak to their GP as soon as possible. For me, like many of us here in parliament, I've already had two doses of AstraZeneca vaccine. I know that there are small risks involved in taking any medication. However, there are also significant risks to health involved in contracting COVID-19 when unvaccinated. So I chose to get the jab for my own health, for my family's wellbeing and to help protect our Australian community. For any Australians watching this who have not already done so, I would urge them to do the same and check their eligibility and register for a vaccine through the website.

Alongside ensuring that all Australians are fully informed about the safety and effectiveness of getting vaccinated, we also need to ensure that vaccine doses continue to be available to meet demand. That is what we are debating today.

The bill before the House will help to ensure that whatever COVID throws at us, whatever new treatment, vaccine or equipment we need, the Australian government will have the power and the flexibility to secure it right away and keep protecting Australians from this disease throughout the months to come. It is an extraordinary measure for extraordinary times. I commend the bill to the House.

1:27 pm

Photo of Matt KeoghMatt Keogh (Burt, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Defence Industry) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] In the few moments I have I want to respond to some of the comments made by the member for Fisher in this debate. The Morrison government needs to stop trying to politicise this debate. Labor is doing the job that Australians have asked of it—to hold the government to account, to call for transparency and to highlight where the government could be doing better on behalf of the Australian people that they govern. Yet, when we do that, the Prime Minister, the government and the member for Fisher right now say that we are talking down the government's response to COVID. No. We all desperately want the government to succeed, and we are pointing out how they could do just that. Australians know that when the government is talking about Labor they are just trying to distract from their own failures and how the Morrison government has let Australians down.

When we come to this legislation, the question must be asked: why are we only just debating legislation like this now? Why is the government only just introducing legislation to manage the pandemic and the rollout, to secure vaccines and associated required goods? Legislation realistically should have hit this parliament by at least this time last year when other nations were having conversations about securing their vaccines. We should have been having this conversation over a year ago. This necessary legislation does not excuse the Morrison government's failures, but of course we support it, as we have supported all of the action that has been taken to help Australians manage their way through this pandemic. Indeed, we are the party that have called for many of those measures that the government eventually ended up adopting to support Australians through this pandemic.

The PM needs to stop responding after the fact, after the last minute—too little, too late—and actually start delivering for Australians right now, because for this Prime Minister every problem ends up being somebody else's fault; every crisis is somebody else's responsibility. Australians have been plunged into uncertainty and disruption because of a quarantine system that is far from fit for purpose and a slow vaccine rollout that everyone is experiencing. He said it's not a race. Well, we all know that it is a race. But for this Prime Minister, who always acts after the fact, always after the last minute, everything is truly too little too late in his approach.

The Prime Minister did have two key jobs this year. In fact, they are jobs that he should have been working on last year.

Photo of Kevin AndrewsKevin Andrews (Menzies, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! This debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour.